XTC in Ecstasy, Tasting the Forbidden Fruit
Consummate songwriter Andy Partridge as smoking lead guitarist? It may sound like a weird tag for the man behind the perennial pop sounds of XTC, but over the years, Partridge has evolved into a skilled and wily string-slinger. One listen to XTC's latest, Wasp Star Apple Venus Volume 2, reveals a variety of clever guitar passages that speak, squeal, sprawl and spit. From the coiled fury of "Playground," to the George Harrison-like majesty of "Stupidly Happy," from the howling country send-up, "I'm The Man Who Murdered Love," to the liquid mercury grace of "Church Of Women," Partridge proves that a wellspring of creativity is more important than furious chops.
Though he would never admit it, Partridge has always made his lone guitar sound like a legion of studio players. Perhaps his legendary bouts with stage fright have enabled him to concentrate on doing it all himself, but the results are nonetheless evident in XTC's multi-hued music. IN 1980, XTC's Black Sea established a textbook for savagely sarcastic pop punk; Later, as The Dukes Of Stratosphear, the band single-handedly ushered in the early 90s psychedelic movement. And in 1982 XTCs double-LP English Settlement culled sounds from dub, reggae and ska as well as the ubiquitous Beatles style-book, and Partridge zipped through it all, playing jazz chords, acoustic folk, bracing punk and perfect pop with machine-like, concentrated zeal.
Now residing in the crumbling village of Swindon with longtime band mate Colin Moulding living nearby, the personable Andy Partridge explains how he got all buggered with Wasp Star(Apple Venus Volume 2).
Guitar.com: XTC has always written song intros that really grab your attention, such as the groups of 3/4 meter in the beginning of "The Man Who Murdered Love."
Andy Partridge: Yea, it doesn't say "Wow, look out!" It says, "Oye, oye! That was a case of the song being pretty normal structure-wise. That song wouldn't be out of place on a country music chart. To slap you up and wake you up to the song, I thought it needed a kind of punch intro. I thought that going across on threes would pull you. I like the cutting across the fours, too. I feel melodies in three, but I don't always feel rhythms in three. I prefer the rhythms in four. I am compelled to sing triplets over fours, and it has become a kind of trademark.
Guitar.com: You have often played with meter in the songs. Is that kind of a John Lennon thing for you?
Partridge: On a lot of Beatle records they slip into threes or Ringo slips into five but he's not supposed to. And everyone has to compensate, like some of the bars in "Rain," you just know that Ringo is fucking up. [laughs] Occasionally we use weird tunings on the guitar. But Colin does that more these days than I do, which is why I can never work out how to play his tunes.
Guitar.com: "My Brown Guitar" is a real country tune.
Partridge: [laughs] You think there is more yee-ha quotient in that one? The yee-ha-ometer would go into red there. That was one of two songs in my life that was written totally automatically. I had no concept of what I was writing. I turned the tape machine on, put down a tempo with a drum machine, then I totally grabbed some chords with no logical reason for them. I'd start with four bars of D, then four bars of F, then I grabbed A, then G. There was no reason, just the four chord my hands saw. Then I set up a mic and began singing the first lines that came into my head. It's basically nonsense. "Where do the lions wear the right tie," I sing, it was just to stimulate my mind.
Guitar.com: Is "Boarded Up" about the end of the music business as some might see it?
Partridge: Colin says it is about the town of Swindon where we live losing its center, which it true. Everyone shops in the big malls out of town now. The center of town is a wasteland of stray dogs and boarded-up shops. I think Colin gives a lot of himself away in his songs without being aware of it. I think that was also his state of mind, he felt in some way trapped.
Guitar.com: Is "Church of Women," a pro or anti-woman song?
Partridge: Absolutely pro. I did an interview with a fellow from German Rolling Stone and he said, "Ya, dis song ees so sarkasteek, I am liking eet." I said, "Look, it's not sarcastic. I love women, they have had a shit deal throughout history. Men have written them out of religion and blamed them for everything that goes wrong. Women are treated as second class citizens." If there is going to be a religion I would rather worship at the altar of women than any other thing.
Guitar.com: Thats kind of encouraging considering you had a fairly bitter romantic experience yourself.
Partridge: Yeah, I woke up one morning and found myself divorced, which was extremely painful. I felt very deceived and dispensed with. And what with fighting Virgin, fighting an ex- wife, having to raise my kids, and also having a malfunctioning prostate, which I either drank to death or fucked it to pieces. But in between all that stuff, Im still writing songs. But then again, the best material comes from either extreme joy or extreme misery.
Guitar.com: Do you still like Black Sea?
Partridge: I heard Black Sea two years ago, it sounded pretty fresh, like some bands that are around now, or better than them. Some of the albums have dated though. White Music is a real timepiece, pre-Devo. And Go 2 is not a good album, Drums & Wires is still good. Black Sea, we started to get pretty good.
Guitar.com: And English Settlement is still a masterpiece!
Partridge: [Laughs] It still sounds okay, but a little unfinished. We did it all in five weeks. It sounds banged down but that is part of its charm maybe.
Guitar.com: You weren't writing Wasp Star in the Black Sea mode?
Partridge: Not really, all these songs were written while we couldn't work for Virgin [because of a pending lawsuit] We were in the fridge and wrote about four albums worth of material. We picked the best half of that material which became Apple Venus Volume 1, then the next chunk became Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2). After working with orchestra and acoustic instruments I really wanted to reach over and plug in my electric guitar and make a noise again. I was sick of hearing plick-plick and scrape-scrape on violins. I wanted to hear "raaaar" again.
Guitar.com: You have such a great catalog of material, and a great new album, yet youre still not interested in touring. Why did you decide not to play live anymore after English Settlement came out?
Partridge: I think the thrill was gone. It became terrifying because I felt trapped. In five years of touring non-stop we never saw a penny from any of the shows we did. I wanted a normal life. I wanted to have a normal house and normal children and I wanted to see them grow up. I wanted off the treadmill. I went from really enjoying being onstage to being petrified and having panic attacks whenever I went onstage. That was natures way of saying you dont want to be doing this anymore.